In the introduction of his new commentary on Hebrews, Tom Schreiner covers four different structures under the heading of Biblical and Theological Structures. These four structures are:
(2) Already-But-Not-Yet Eschatology
and now the fourth and final structure (4) the Spatial Orientation of Hebrews.
Typology and the spatial orientation are often grouped together. Yet typology is seen in just about every book of the NT, while the spatial dimension is quite distinctive in Hebrews. Here ”Hebrews quite frequently contrasts the earthly and the heavenly, so we have a vertical or spatial contrast. Hence, the author, in accord with the OT, ‘works with a two-story model of the created cosmos — heaven/s and earth’ (cf. Gen 1:1; 2:1; Jer 10:11)” (45).
In this, sometimes symbolism is employed to help us understand the greater reality that is in heaven. Other times, the author’s language is not symbolic. Schreiner gives two examples. Christ truly was resurrected, and so truly has a resurrected body. No symbolism there.
“The language about a heavenly tent (8:2; 9:11, 24) and a city, however, should not be pressed to say there is a literal tent or a literal heavenly city” (46).
Schreiner goes on to explain this imagery, “Spatial imagery may be appropriated to express the inexpressible, to convey a reality that transcends our understanding in symbolic language. Hence, the reference to God’s throne in the heavens points the readers to God’s transcendence (1:3; 8:1-2; 10:12; 12:2)” (46).
Hebrews 9.22-23 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.“
So the copies were purified by animal sacrifices (which were copies of the true sacrifice), and the “heavenly things themselves” needed that better sacrifice to be purified. Christ enters into the presence of God itself, not into the holy places which were made by the hands of (idolatrous) men. The holy places were where God’s presence was to be experienced, but Christ entered into God’s presence in “a better sanctuary, a heavenly one, ‘to appear in the presence of God for us’” (Heb 9.24, p 48).
As is fitting with Revelation 21-22, the heavenly, new Jerusalem will descend to earth which will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. The Son, being heir of all things, must have something to inherit. Jesus will rule over the world, what we were supposed to do, and will fulfill Psalm 8.
As Doug Wilson has said in his book Father Hunger, “Faith sees opportunity in the world that God made, and in the way God governs that world. Unbelief always sees insurmountable obstacles” (158).
“Believers should follow the examples of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and look forward to a heavenly city instead of longing to fit into the present social order (11:13-16)” (49). We are “exiles and resident aliens” in this world now. We don’t seek a lasting city, but that which is to come (13.14). This world is where “Christ came to save his people (10:5-10)” and is where “he will return… to complete his saving work (9:28)” (49). We continue on in our life with Christ, walking by faith, looking at what God has done in times before, what he was accomplished for us in Christ, and trusting that he will complete that work in Christ, just as he has promised to do.
BTS: Promise-Fulfillment in Hebrews
BTS: Already-But-Not-Yet Eschatology in Hebrews
BTS: The Spatial Orientation of Hebrews
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